Attawapiskat Canadian Rangers rescue hunter on Akimiski Island

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By Peter Moon

A hunter whose snowmobile broke down and was forced to spend the night in an improvised shelter made from his toboggan and a tarpaulin was rescued by a Canadian Ranger search party.

“It began when I got a satellite phone call (at about 11 p.m.) from my aunt who was at a hunting camp on Akimiski Island telling me her stepson had left the camp at 8 a.m. and had not returned,” said Sergeant Clayton Wesley, commander of the Canadian Ranger patrol in Attawapiskat, a small Cree community on James Bay. “The only food he had with him was some sandwiches for a day’s hunt.”

The Canadian Rangers are part-time army reservists.

The overdue hunter was part of a group of hunters at a traditional spring hunting camp on Akimiski Island, an uninhabited island 19 kilometers from the mouth of the Attawapiskat River. All the islands in Hudson Bay and James Bay are part of Nunavut, while Attiwapiskat is in Ontario.

The RCMP have jurisdiction on the island but the Mounties’ nearest detachment in Nunavut is hundreds of kilometers from it. The RCMP asked the Canadian Armed Forces for help and the Rangers in Attawapiskat were authorized to conduct a search. But spring weather conditions meant a search could not begin until the next morning because there were patches of dangerous slush and open water. Overnight the temperature dropped to a low of -7C.

“My brother Paul, who’s a Ranger, was at the hunting camp the man had left from,” Sergeant Wesley said. “Paul left in the morning at 6 a.m. with a civilian volunteer, Paul Tookat, to look for him. The found him after about an-hour-and-a-half. His snowmachine had broken down.

“You worry about him first and his machine after. They brought him back to the hunting camp fast and got him food and something to drink. He was all right. He’d made himself a good shelter.”

Shortly after the successful search for the hunter Sergeant Wesley got a phone call from the Nishbawbe Aski Police in Attawapiskat. “They said a person had been seen crossing the river on foot and he could no longer be seen,” he said. “The police asked us so Master Corporal Derek Hookimaw and I went looking for him on our snowmachines.”

They followed the man’s tracks in the snow until they saw him ahead of them and caught up with him. “He had nothing to drink, no food, no nothing, just the clothes on his back,” Sergeant Wesley said. “He said he was going to cross the bay and walk to Akimiski Island. He had rubber boots and a pair of jeans. He had no proper attire on.”

They talked to the man and convinced him to return to the community with them.

“The police were waiting for us when we got back and he went with them. It was a busy day.”

(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.

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